Opinion

A group of Long Island Assemblymembers who said they have made job creation, economic development and homeowner tax cuts a priority in this year's budget, uncovered yet another state budget shocker in the form of a $1 billion slush fund tucked away under the sole control of the governor.

Assemblymen Tom Alfano, Bob Barra and Rob Walker blasted the slush fund that's being called one of the "Biggest Blank Checks in State Budget History." The slush fund was incorporated in the state budget that eliminated STAR rebate checks, cut Long Island's regional share of school aid and increased SUNY and CUNY tuitions. Businesses were also dealt a devastating blow in utility tax increases, income tax increases and the functional death of job-creating Empire Zones.

The "slush fund" is under the governor's personal control and is answerable only to two New York City legislators from Brooklyn and Manhattan as part of the highly controversial state budget passed. That budget was fiercely opposed in the Town of Hempstead by Assemblymembers Tom Alfano, Bob Barra, Rob Walker, Joe Saladino and Dave McDonough and Senators Chuck Fuschillo, Dean Skelos and Kemp Hannon. Supporting the budget and voting 'yes' was Senator Craig Johnson.

The slush fund was uncovered in the public protection portion of the budget where Governor Paterson and Queens Senator Malcolm Smith crafted the "honeypot of cash" for the governor's use. The budget provides $1 billion that is not only unitemized, but does not have to come before the Senate or Assembly for either oversight or a vote as it is spent. Instead, the governor simply has to send a yearly report to two New York City legislators and his own budget director. The two legislators are from New York City and the budget director is appointed by governor.

"This is the ultimate blank check that says to taxpayers 'I don't care how much you hurt.' This fund is beyond arrogance. Here we have a budget that takes away the STAR rebate checks, cuts our share of school aid and kills job-creating programs like our Empire Zone. Now we find out that there is a $1 billion slush fund? The economy is in the tank, people are losing their jobs and families are having a tough time making ends meet. People are losing their health care and their unemployment benefits are running out and the three men in a room come up with a budget in secret that not only is the hugest tax hike and spending spree in the history of the state, but they weren't happy enough with that, they have a slush fund too? What is Long Island, - their personal ATM machine? Enough is enough," Assemblyman Alfano said.

"This is explosive," Assemblyman Barra added. "It's obvious this is what happens when you have only a one-party rule. Special interests rule the roost and the people suffer. In this economy the answer isn't a slush fund governor, it's cutting taxes."

The "slush fund," according to Assemblyman Alfano, could have been used to restore a multitude of important items slashed in the budget. Alfano specifically pointed to the STAR rebate checks, school aid regional share, hospital cuts, SUNY-CUNY tuition increases and eliminating utility tax increases. "I have college students throughout our communities emailing me every day really worried about where they're going to get the money. A lot of these young people can't even get a summer job and now this happens. It's a disgrace."

"I have seniors walking into my office really scared about what has happened with this budget. They need that rebate check. And, to hear a senator from Queens say that most people never even knew they got a STAR Rebate check is offensive. Last week, we showed how this budget hurts job creation and Senator Craig Johnson's spokesman glibly said we lived on Fantasy Island. I wonder if the seniors who lost their rebate checks, the students who have to pay higher tuition bills and the people that need jobs think they live on Fantasy Island? Come on, wake up - this is real, people are hurting," Assemblyman Barra said.

Assemblyman Walker noted, "In these kinds of times, I just can't believe they did this. You have $1 billion slush fund that only you control? It's outrageous and is a slap in the face to homeowners, seniors and young people. This budget is so unfair to Long Island and now this? What were they thinking? Our schools can't afford to lose their regional share. We went from 13 percent to 5 percent. It's about time that people started to think about what's good for Long Island instead of being beholden to city interests."

Assemblyman Alfano concluded, "Homeowners and seniors are really hurting as a result of this budget. When you think of what could have been done to help families with this money it just gets you angry. It's really sad that we have all three leaders from one region of our state that show us time, after time, after time that they are insensitive to the outrageous taxes we pay. We could have restored our school aid share. Or, we could have almost fully restored the STAR Rebate check. Instead, they increased spending over $10 billion and slashed communities like Elmont, Franklin Square, North Valley Stream, West Hempstead, Bellerose Village, Stewart Manor, Bellerose Terrace and Floral Park. This is serious for many families and I just can't believe how out of touch some people are with people who are really hurting right now. We need to help them, not stash money in a slush fund."

Assemblyman Tom Alfano announced a comprehensive Italian Earthquake Relief fund that is collecting donations for the families. The NIAF/Abruzzo Relief Fund, which has been established by the National Italian American Federation, will help victims and their families who perished from the recent earthquake in the town of L'Aquila and other small towns in central Italy in the region of Abruzzo.

"This was a tragedy and claimed the lives of innocent people as they slept," Assemblyman Tom Alfano said. "The Elmont, Franklin Square, North Valley Stream, Floral Park and West Hempstead communities have gotten involved in international causes to help people. Over the past few weeks, many people have asked me how they can help Abruzzo. This is a great way to get involved and make a difference."

The National Italian American Federation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving and promoting the heritage and culture of Americans of Italian descent, the nation's fifth largest ethnic group. Among the supporters of the relief effort and organization are: Yogi Berra, Luciano Pavarotti, Danny Aiello, Andrea Bocelli, Tony Lo Bianco, Alan Alda, Sophia Loren, Martin Scorcese, Tommy LaSorda, Mario Batelli, Frankie Valli and Gina Lollobrigida.

"NIAF extends its sincerest condolences to the victims and their families suffering from the recent earthquake that struck residents as they slept. This tragic disaster has claimed the lives of innocent people. Words cannot convey the Foundation's sense of loss for the victims. Our hearts and prayers are with them and the rescue workers, who are frantically trying to save those who remained trapped in the debris," NIAF President Joseph V. Del Raso, Esq., said.

The earthquake, with a magnitude of 6.3 reported by the U.S. Geological Survey, has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of individuals with more than 1,500 people injured and many people still missing. With residents still buried under the debris of the collapsed buildings, rescue workers continue to work diligently to save the remaining trapped victims. Between 30,000 and 40,000 people are believed to have lost their homes and Italian authorities are working to find them shelter before nightfall.

"The amount of damage is truly shocking," Assemblyman Alfano noted. "The number of people losing their homes is on par with every homeowner in North Valley Stream, Elmont and one third of Franklin Square being wiped out. It's a tragedy and we have to help."

Assemblyman Alfano has encouraged residents who wish to donate to the relief effort can do so in many ways: by check and mail, donations can be made by check payable to the NIAF/Abruzzo Relief Fund. Kindly mail to NIAF/ Abruzzo Relief Fund, The National Italian American Foundation, 1860 19th Street NW, Washington, DC 20009. Or donate online by simply going to: www.niaf.org.


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